LANSING, Mich. (AP) – A county judge should have allowed a jury to hear evidence of a recorded telephone conversation in an assault trial involving rap star Diddy’s entourage, but the Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled the error was harmless.

The appellate court issued an unanimous opinion Friday affirming a judgment in favor of Sean Combs’ record label and bodyguard. The hip-hop mogul was known as P. Diddy until recently and also has gone by Puff Daddy and Puffy.

TV talk-show host Roger Mills sued the rapper, his label Bad Boy Entertainment, bodyguard Ron Gilyard and Detroit radio station WCHB-FM in 2001, alleging he was attacked after a 1999 interview with Combs.

Mills said Combs abruptly ended the interview when asked to comment about allegations that he contributed to the 1997 shooting death of fellow rapper Notorious B.I.G. The case remains unsolved. Combs’ album “No Way Out” featured a Grammy-winning tribute to Wallace, entitled “I’ll Be Missing You.”

Mills said members of Combs’ entourage roughed him up and stole the tape of the interview, breaking a camera in the process.

A jury ruled in favor of Combs and others in 2004, finding no assault and battery occurred. Mills appealed.

The appeals court said a recorded telephone conversation between Gilyard and Mills – in which the bodyguard said Combs directed him to “get the tape” – should have been allowed as evidence.

But the court ruled the error was harmless, saying the tape didn’t establish the rapper gave any instruction to the bodyguard nor did it show Combs authorized an assault.

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Sharon Osbourne says she cut Iron Maiden’s power during a concert on this summer’s Ozzfest tour.

The wife of rock icon Ozzy Osbourne has accused the heavy metal group’s singer Bruce Dickinson of badmouthing her husband on stage.

“Dickinson got what he deserved,” Osbourne wrote in a letter to the group’s manager. “Was Dickinson so naive to think that I was going to let him get away with talking … about my family night after night?”

During the same show in Devore earlier this month, Iron Maiden’s members were pelted with eggs and debris from the crowd.

The group’s manager, Rod Smallwood, said the band deserved an apology “from a number of people, and you know who you are.”

“In 30 years in this business and after attending hundreds of gigs, I have never seen anything anywhere near as disgusting and unprofessional as what went on that night,” Smallwood wrote in a statement on Iron Maiden’s Web site.

BEIJING (AP) – The television finale of an “American Idol”-type pop star contest in China has broken ratings records, according to state media.

Millions of people tuned in Friday to Hunan Satellite Television for the live, three-hour finale of “Super Girls,” the official China Daily newspaper said.

Li Yuchun, 21, was named champion of the “Super Girls 2005” contest after garnering 3.5 million votes from fans all over China, according to the Beijing Youth Daily newspaper.

Votes were accepted by mobile phone text message and each phone number was allowed 15 votes.

Li just topped 20-year-old Zhou Bichang, who got 3.2 million votes.

For weeks, fans have been turning up at malls around China shouting and carrying posters of their favorite “Super Girls” contestants in a bid to rally votes in their favor.

Security guards were called in last week at two local malls after “Super Girls” fans became unruly while lobbying shoppers to vote for their aspiring star, the local newspaper Shanghai Daily reported.

LONDON (AP) – Best-selling American crime writer Patricia Cornwell has taken out a full-page newspaper ad to defend her investigation into solving a 19th century killing spree.

The ads in two British national newspapers on Saturday came days after one of the papers accused her of having an “obsession” with the Jack the Ripper case.

“My ongoing investigation is far from an obsession, but an excellent opportunity to provide a platform for applying modern science to a very old, highly visible case in the hope that we might learn something that could help solve modern crimes,” Cornwell wrote in the ads, published in The Independent and The Guardian.

In a 2002 book, Cornwell claimed to have solved the mystery of the Ripper, who murdered and mutilated at least five prostitutes in London’s filthy, foggy East End in 1888. The killer was never caught and his identity has been a subject of speculation ever since.

“Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper – Case Closed” pointed the finger at Walter Sickert, an Impressionist painter and printmaker.

The theory was greeted with skepticism by Jack the Ripper experts, many of whom have their own theories about the killer’s identity.

In the advertisement, Cornwell said she still believed Sickert was the killer, but acknowledged that “the case is far from closed.”

She said a new edition of her book, incorporating fresh evidence, would be published next year. Cornwell has spent millions of dollars on the Ripper investigation, including the purchase of dozens of Sickert’s paintings.

NEW YORK (AP) – Sean Astin, the former “Lord of the Rings” hobbit, will again find himself in a situation where the fate of the world hangs in the balance – albeit in a slightly more condensed time frame.

Astin will join the cast of Fox’s “24,” the network announced Friday. Who the 34-year-old “Rudy” actor will be playing is not yet known.

Fox said season five of the real-time drama picks up 18 months after last season’s conclusion with Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) still presumed dead and living a new life. He lives with Diane (Donnie Britton, of “Spin City”) and her son Derek (Brady Corbet, “Thirteen.”)

Also joining the cast is Jean Smart (“Garden State,” “Designing Women”) as First Lady Martha Logan. Gregory Itzin returns as her husband, panicky President Logan.

The show is nominated for 11 Emmys, including best drama and best actor for Sutherland.

“24” will have a four-hour, two night season premiere on Jan. 8 and 9, (8 p.m. EDT), before moving to its regular Monday slot on Jan. 16.

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TORONTO (AP) – Patrick Swayze never knows when “Dirty Dancing” fans will strike.

“It’s incredible,” says the actor, who played the hip-swinging Johnny Castle in the hit 1987 film.

“All of the sudden I’ll be pinched on the rear and jump and turn around and I’ll see this little blue-haired old lady running back to her group of friends going: “I did it Martha. I did it!’ “

While Swayze went on to star in films like “Road House,” “Point Break” and “Ghost,” he’s probably best known for “Dirty Dancing,” in which his bad-boy character teaches teenager Baby (Jennifer Grey) some risque moves during her summer vacation.

The movie plays endlessly on TV, and one U.K. poll recently named the scene in which Swayze lifts Grey out of the lake during a dance lesson as Hollywood’s greatest ever.

“Little girls who weren’t even born when the movie was made (are) huge fans. It’s hysterical,” says Swayze’s wife of 30 years, dancer Lisa Niemi.

These days, the 53-year-old actor is again strutting his stuff, this time in “One Last Dance,” written and directed by Niemi, who also co-stars. Released on DVD earlier this week, it is the story of three aging dancers who reunite to help keep a dance company afloat.

NEW YORK (AP) – Dave Brubeck can finally cross something off that’s been on his “to-do” list for nearly 60 years.

The legendary jazz pianist will unveil a new six-minute choral work called “The Commandments” Sept. 14 at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall, as part of the second annual Jewish Music Heritage Festival in New York.

“It has taken me almost 60 years finally to compose something I wanted to write when I was a young soldier in Europe,” the 84-year-old Brubeck said in a statement.

“The Commandments,” to be sung by the 90-member Providence Singers, follows the ten Biblical rules. The pianist says the inspiration came during World War II when he saw most of the commandments broken.

Brubeck spent four years in the Army after graduating college in 1942. His long career includes the classic album, “Time Out,” which featured the surprise hit “Take Five.”

AP-ES-08-27-05 1446EDT

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